2015-08-30

FBS - Preview 2015 - The Atlantic Coast Conference

I'm still wondering, when the ACC will get the teams on a more equal level in football.
6 teams had last season a losing record, even when a few of them got that last loss in bowls.
Overall most teams from this Power 5 conference are quite irrelevant for the national picture, even their names do still have some ringing with it.
Realistic only 4 to 5 teams do have some impact, the rest is 2nd tier or worse.

Atlantic Coast Conference
The new teams in 2013 and 2014 did not really add some quality, except maybe Louisville.
I don't think the conference will be effected by the BIG12 expansion talks, since most teams are either well established or irrelevant.

The 14 teams are:

Atlantic Division:
Boston College Eagles
Clemson University Tigers
Florida State University Seminoles
University of Louisville Cardinals
North Carolina State University Wolfpack
Syracuse University Orange
Wake Forest University Demon Deacons

Coastal Division:
Duke University Blue Devils
Georgia Institute of Technology Yellow Jackets
University of Miami Hurricanes
University of North Carolina Tar Heels
University of Pittsburgh Panthers
University of Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Hokies

Now let's get a bit into the details:
Atlantic Division

Boston College Eagles
I'm not sure if the current HC will be there for some more seasons.
OK, the team was a mess, when he took over (2-10 in the last season before the change), but Steve Addazio came from Temple and managed to get 2 season with a 7-6 record each and a bowl loss, each.
Nice, if you were 2-10, but the team had division titles and a conference title between 2000 and 2010, several Bowl wins and was a team you had to beat in the ACC.
So, 7-6 is nice and he probably will get 1 to 2 years as credit, but for sure the heat is turned on a bit.
They do start with 4 home games, 3 are non conference games. The 4th non conference game is mid-November.
Maine (FCS), Howard (FCS) and Northern Illinois should or could be a win. Notre Dame in November is very likely a loss.
The Huskies are able to win, so the Eagles should better bring their A game.
They do play Duke and VT from the Coastal, which will not be easy.
Of all the inner division games, they will have to aim for the easier ones.
I do mark the FSU game and the Clemson game as sure losses, as I do the Louisville game on the road.
Which leaves Wake Forest, Syracuse on the road and NC State.
Hard to guess the outcome here, but last season they won these games.
Looking at all the games coming, I doubt they will make a positive conference record.
But all probable wins sum up I get them into the 6 wins figures, not more.
There are many "ifs" for a 8 win record, like "if Duke sucks" and "if VT still sucks", that I don't think they can overcome such conditions for such a result.

Clemson Tigers
Dabo Swinney made Clemson a winner and if there wouldn't be such teams like FSU, Clemson would have won many conference titles.
Instead they got not much in the last few season, except national recognition as team behind FSU.
The teams has double figure win season since 2011 (in which they won the conference, which was before FSU came back from the dead) and they won all bowls since 2012.
Some might wonder why the coach was not hired away from one of the other big schools, but you always need 2 parties for such an agreement.
Swinney has a nice contract until 2021 and will cost the school a lot of money, if he gets fired.
Fine, so the coach is still there in his 7th full season and he is aiming for the big one, again.
On the non conference games front does it look good.
Wofford (FCS) will get the typical warm-up beating at season start and Appalachian State will very likely get another one.
Beginning of October they will play Notre Dame at home which will be bend or break for both teams.
At season final they will play the rival game against South Carolina on the road. After 5 straight wins by the Gamecocks did the Tigers win last season, at home.
Tough to pick the games, but 3-1 to 4-0 are possible.
If they lose against Notre Dame, they can burry all hopes for a playoff spot I guess.
From the Coastal division they got Miami and GT.
I give them Miami as a win, without thinking, but GT is something else.
Lucky for the Tigers, the game is at home and a win gets more likely.
All other games inside the division are OK, the most interesting ones are Louisville on the road (3rd gameday) and FSU at home beginning of November.
Perfect for division champ run, if they can win those.
It looks good, since FSU is still sorting the QBs and Louisville might be better than last season, but they might still not be ready for a good Clemson team.
I really pick them 1st here.

Florida State Seminoles
The Noles got it the heavy way against Oregon in the playoff semifinals, after an incredible streak of 29 wins, losing 20â€"59. Autsch!
It did not hurt Winstons draft status (he was taken #1 overall) but did of cause hurt the Noles.
No repeat.
Still they won the conference and will contend of cause also this season.
But the team has some off season trouble (players are accused hitting women) and they did some shuffle to find Winstons successor at QB.
It might happen that a Notre Dame transfer will get the starting spot, but that's not final.
Last season were some discussions regarding strength of schedule for the playoff spots and I have to say, Florida State has a quite weak one this season.
Texas State and USF at season start, Chattanooga (FCS) and Florida on the road as rival game at season finale.
Beside the Gators there are no challenges and Florida got a new coach, so they might be a season or 2 away from being back on track in the SEC.
The coastal division opponents are Georgia Tech and Miami. GT is fine, but Miami is still a shadow living in their glories past.
The rest will be decided mid-October against Louisville and beginning of November at Clemson.
I think the school will take a down year this season and will have to handle GT and Louisville to get at least the 2nd place in the Atlantic.
My pick is, they will fall short and end up 3rd.

Louisville Cardinals
I think the guys on campus do sometimes congratulate themselves for the great ride the team had in the last few years.
A long time independent team, made the last push into the conferences 1996 into the CUSA, got to the Big East in 2005, moved on with several other Big East teams to the AAC for 2013 and is now since 2014 member of the ACC.
Money and reputation did skyrocket in those almost 20 years.
The Cardinals are now a member of a power 5 conference and do have an almost paved way to national championship chances, if things do come the right way.
As CUSA or even AAC team, those chances are very slim.
Louisville did hire Bobby Petrino on a second stint (he was the Cardinals coach from 2003 to 2006 and bolted to Atlanta in the NFL for the money and probably the challenge, which did not work and he bolted to Arkansas back to college ranks the next season) and he does know how to get teams winning.
Last season, in his 1st one, the team went 9-4 including a bowl loss.
Since he started coaching, a team under his guidance didn't had major setbacks. In fact, only the Louisville team of 2005 had a worse record (9 wins) than the team of 2004 a year before (11 wins).
But they switched the conference at that time.
So, an educated guess could be, that Louisville will add a win or 2 to the record this season.
They won 9 games during the regular season, losing only to Virginia, Clemson and FSU.
Means they even won all their non conference games, including Notre Dame and Kentucky.
So ... what will happen this season?
Well ... a season opener against Auburn will be a stunner.
Win this and you are in national title discussion, lose this and you can focus on the beatable teams.
Houston should be a win and Samford (FCS) even more.
The rival game against Kentucky at season finale against was won 4 straight seasons and even played on the road this season can be won again.
A 3-1 to 4-0 record is possible.
Playing Virginia and Pittsburgh from the Coastal will be much easier than playing the the big shots, so they can cash in here, too.
Overall it will come down to the Clemson and FSU games.
With Clemson at home and FSU on the road this might be the right season to overcome both teams.
I doubt it, but chances are there.
I pick them 2nd in the division.

North Carolina State Wolfpack
The Wolfpack is one of those teams, which are always in the shadows of some bigger teams.
Last time the team won a conference championship?
1979 under Coach Bo Rein in his last season with the team.
Since then, the team had some successful seasons, but it was never enough to win a championship.
Dave Doeren took over the pack 2 seasons ago and did come from a very successful 2-year stint at Northern Illinois.
His team went 3-9 in the 1st season under Doeren and went 8-5 in the 2nd year, including a bowl win.
I think the team has some chances to climb another step this season, but don't expect too much.
The other contenders are very good.
Troy, Eastern Kentucky (FCS) , Old Dominion and South Alabama are no real threat as non conference opponents.
I think it's one of the softest set of games a team can have to start a season.
The Wolfpack will have to play Virginia Tech and North Carolina from the Coastal, which isn't too bad.
VT does struggle since a few seasons and North Carolina is each year in turnaround mode, but never delivers.
I still think NC State might drop 1 of those games. Most likely the road trip to the Hokies.
Inside the conference it will get messy.
They will play Louisville at home, which will give them the best chance they can get to overcome the Cardinals, but I doubt a win here.
Clemson is out of reach from my point of view.
Most interesting game will probably the FSU game mid-November on the road.
If they can get a win there, the season might become better than expected.
I pick them still only 4th in the division.

Syracuse Orange
Maybe I'm an ass, but I think Syracuse has a lot of reputation, without much they have delivered the last few seasons.
At least in football.
Granted, in 2013, the 1st season under Scott Shafer as Headcoach the team went 7-6 in the newly entered ACC, including a bowl win.
And a season before they won the Big East conference (shared with 3 other teams).
But overall did the team not really strike fear in the hearts of the opposing teams.
Last season did the team finish 3-9.
I'm sure Shafer is feeling some heat. Not much, but some.
He better get some better protection, because the heat will get hotter after this season.
I don't think they will get a positive record.
Rhode Island (FCS) will be a nice start, mid-September will they host Central Michigan, which are well beatable, but LSU, even at home, will be a mess.
Playing South Florida on the road will be a nice test.
They can win here, but a loss is possible.
In the best case they can get 3 wins in this non conference schedule.
The Coastal teams are Pittsburgh and Virginia, which could be much worse.
But Pitt is under new management and Virginia can be a terror or a kitten.
My pick is they will lose 1 here.
Inside the division are the biggest problems.
Wake Forest at home will probably be a win, but NC State and FSU are on the road, which I think would be the most likely possible wins.
The rival Game against Boston College is at home which is a probable win.
Adding up all picks I get ... 6 wins, 3 in the conference.
Enough to get less heat? Don't think so.
But we will see.
I pick them 5th in the division.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
I hate writing about that team.
Normally the team is not that good, sometimes they show flashes of improvements, destroyed by sucking the next season, the next game or the next quarter.
The have a new coach since last season and went 3-9 under Dave Clawsons new watch.
He came from Bowling Green, winning a conference title and might bring in some better results, but fans have to be patient.
They will start the season with Elon (FCS), playing Army mid-September and Indiana a week after that.
Add Notre Dame on the read mid-November and you have the non conference games together.
If they are lucky they will win 2 of them.
Indiana and Notre Dame might be too much.
Playing Duke at home and North Carolina on the road as Coastal games won't help.
If the Tar Heels game would have been at home, I might have given the Deacons the win, but on the road? No.
Which leaves the rest of the division games.
Aiming for the weaker teams is probably a nice idea, so Syracuse (on the road), Boston College (on the road), Florida State (at home) and NC State (at home) will most likely be those games, but the scheduling is not ideal here.
They will probably win 1 or 2 of those, but not many more.
Which leaves the team overall with 3 to 5 wins.
I see them finishing last in the conference.

Coastal Division

Duke University Blue Devils
The Blue Devils are flying on a high note since 3 seasons.
2012 did they finish 6-6 and went to a bowl, the 1st since 1994. 2013 they did finish 10-4, won the division, lost to FSU in the conference championship game and did play another bowl.
Last season the finished 9-4 and went to another bowl.
The only bad thing in those 3 season was, they never won one of those bowls.
Now, in his 8th season with the Devils, David Cutcliffe will probably try to get this right.
Biggest opponent in the division will be Georgia Tech for the conference title.
Maybe Miami and Virginia Tech will get their things together again and will compete, but I will believe that, when I see it.
For Duke the non conference games are quite easy, playing Tulane, North Carolina Central (FCS), Northwestern and Army.
Northwestern will be the toughest one, but a Cutcliffe-Duke-team can win this.
So 3-1 or even 4-0 are possible here.
The Blue Devils will play Boston College and Wake Forest from the Atlantic, which might one of the easiest combinations this season.
Inside the division, they play GT at home early (end September) and will visit VT.
This 2 games will most likely determine the season results.
My pick is, it will be not enough for another trip to the championship game.
But 2nd or 3nd place is likely and another bowl. Maybe this season they can add a win there.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The press is putting GT into the spot for the ACC Championship favorite. At least some.
I wouldn't go that far, but things do look pretty good at the moment and the team will very likely finish with a very good record.
My guess is, they will make the Championship game, but from that point on they are on their own.
Paul Johnson won as their HC 4 division titles in 7 seasons and only because the team was sanctioned by the NCAA over an ineligible player, for which no real proof was given, the team cannot claim the 2009 won conference championship.
Now in his 8th season, they might be able to win it again.
The non conference schedule looks OK, starting with Alcorn State (FCS), Tulane and at Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame game will be great, with both teams able to win this.
The team will finish the season later with the traditional rivalry game against Georgia, which they were able to win last season in OT on the road, snapping a long lasting streak of defeats.
If the team is lucky they will get 3 to 4 wins out of these games, but 2 wins are a must.
From the Atlantic the play some of the toughest opponents, Clemson on the road and FSU at home.
They will have to win at least 1 of those to win the division.
At the end, it will come down in the road game against Duke, the road game against Miami and the home game against Virginia Tech.
Talent wise the tools are there to get a perfect season inside the division, even the conference, but some games will be close and an upset can happen in many games.
My pick is, they will finish 1st in the division, losing only 1 game inside the conference.
They will then have to win the Championship game, which might be a rematch of the Clemson game.

Miami Hurricanes
The "U" did not get the past 4 season what they expected to get from HC Al Golden. After a 9-4 season including a bowl loss in 2013, the team did dive to 6-7 with a loss in the bowl this winter.
So, no wonder many do see him on one of the hottest seats in the nation.
I would expect him to be fired, if certain games are lost.
Starting Bethune-Cookman (FCS), playing Florida Atlantic, Nebraska and Cincinnati in the first 4 weeks does end already the non conference schedule.
They will probably start with 2 wins (otherwise expect the trigger for Golden to be pushed very fast) and might get in trouble against the Huskers at home and the Bearcats on the road.
I'm not expecting a win against the Huskers and they will have to play tough to win against the Bearcats.
Still I think, 3-1 is possible here.
But then do the problems begin.
The next 4 games will be Florida State (on the road), Virginia Tech, Clemson and Duke (on the road) is one of the toughest list of games in a row you can have in the ACC.
Only GT is missing here (which they play later) and Louisville (which they were lucky not to draw from the Atlantic).
This can be the Al Golden survival weeks.
Honestly, I expect them to drop all of those games.
And with the rest of the schedule in mind, the team will have a hard time getting the 6 wins from last season.
It could come down to the last gameday against Pittsburgh on the road, where they are bound to win for a bowl ticket and maybe even to keep Golden in the job.
But my guess is, if it come down to that scenario, Golden will be gone before that game.
I see them finishing in the lower end of the division.

North Carolina Tar Heels
Since Larry Fedora came to town in year 2012 the team did go from 8 wins in that season to 7 wins in 2013 and to 6 wins in 2014.
Can you see the problem?
Al Golden of the Hurricanes is very likely on a hot seat, but for sure the seat of Fedora is at least fair warm.
This season will be challenging.
They start against South Carolina, which I would guess will be very one-sided and the Tar Heals will get spanked.
Then they will play North Carolina A&T (FCS), Illinois and Delaware (FCS).
This could be breathing streak, with only the Illini game a challenge, but at home.
So far the non conference games.
They might end up with 3 wins here.
North Carolina did get NC State and Wake Forest from the Atlantic, which will help to boost the win total.
Expect them to win at least 1 game here.
The rest will be interesting.
I don't expect them to win against GT and Duke (even they did win against them last season on the road) and the VT game on the road will be probably too much.
Which leaves Virginia, Pitt and Miami to top the 6 wins from last season.
Possible. Even likely.
I'm still not expecting a breakthrough season.
I pick them in the mid field.

Pittsburgh Panthers
Pitt went 6-7 last season, which still paved the way for HC Paul Chryst to get the Wisconsin gig and leave town.
As new HC was selected Pat Narduzzi, a longtime DC of Michigan State.
Expect hard mouth football and a no bullshit approach, whatever that means.
One thing is for sure, they will maybe take a small step back this season, but they will come back strong.
It might even happen without the step back already this season.
They play Youngstown State (FCS), Akron and Iowa at the start of the season and will add a Notre Dame game start of November.
With a good or bad Iowa team is hard to pick a winner, but my guts are expecting a loss there and also a loss against the Irish.
But 2-2 would be good out of the non conference games.
Syracuse and Louisville are an interesting combination from the Atlantic and another split win-loss here.
The rest of the season might come down to the games against Virginia, North Carolina and Miami, which are all home games.
Chances are they will win 2 or 3 games and will maybe get a bowl ticket.
My guess is, they will take the step back, will win 4 to 5 games only and will come back next season.

Virginia Cavaliers
I really get a bad feeling in my guts when I have to write about the Cavaliers.
It feels like they suck for ages, which is not true. They had a positive season under the current HC Mike London and they had several ones under Al Groh before that.
But since 2012 they did not have a positive record and some might think it's time for a change.
London is in his 6th season and it doesn't look like the Cavaliers will get back to the glory days.
They will play UCLA at season opening on the road and will very likely get a bloody nose in California.
Add Notre Dame the next gameday and you have a 0-2 start.
William & Mary (FCS) should help a bit, but then comes Boise State to town, which is known to eat power 5 teams alive.
Talk about a good 1-3 start here ....
They got Syracuse and Louisville from the Atlantic, but as sure as I was that Pitt would split those games, I'm sure Virginia will drop both games.
Even with playing the Orange at home.
If they want to avoid the last place in the conference (which they had last season), they need to win some conference games.
Best would be (on top of the Orange game) they would win against Pitt, the Tar Heels and Miami.
But all of those are road trips.
And the home games are GT, Duke and VT.
That's trouble.
My guess is, this will be a bad season and maybe London will not stay in his seat.
But I expected that 2 seasons ago already and he is still there.

Virginia Tech Hokies
Frank Beamer will enter his 29th season here.
Since 2012 did the team not record a double-digit win record, which they had from 2004 to 2011 every season.
No wonder some fans do get nervous and want to see a change.
I'm not sure they would get a better coach than Beamer.
At least this season, the chances are high, the team might get back into the 10 win column.
You don't believe that?
Fine.
Granted a start against Ohio State will be counterproductive, but then comes Furman (FCS), Purdue and East Carolina as non conference games.
3-1 is my pick here.
NC State and BC from the Atlantic are easy enough to win both games also.
Assuming a good run against the weaker teams, they play Duke at home and GT on the road after a bye week.
They might drop one of those, even both, but the chances are very good to win both games.
My pick is they will win 9 games during the season and might be able to get the 10th on a bowl.
Cheating?
Don't think to.
Inside the division I see them as 3rd best team.

So my TIP is:

Atlantic Division:
Clemson Tigers
Louisville Cardinals
Florida State Seminoles
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Syracuse Orange
Boston College Eagles
Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Coastal Division:
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Duke Blue Devils
Virginia Tech Hokies
North Carolina Tar Heels
Miami Hurricanes
Pittsburgh Panthers
Virginia Cavaliers

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